Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Screaming Deals And Things That Make Me Want To Scream!

Guarding my wine buy like any good prepper!

I hear from all over that one of the things my readers like the most is when I tell you about some really screaming deal.  Well, here is one thing that you won't want to miss.

My son got married about a month ago, and believe it or not, we ran out of wine at the rehearsal dinner!  Oooohhh!!  Bad wine guy!  (Truth is people were stealing the bottles because they were custom labeled with my kid's cute pictures on them.  The wine was pretty good too, but not good enough to steal.)

The wedding was in  Uniontown, Washington, just down the street from Pullman.  Well, being a good host, I ran down the highway back to Pullman and into the WalMart store.  As I quickly perused the shelves I found a couple of bottles of Columbia Crest Vineyard 10 blend for $2.97 per bottle! 

Hmmmm...I thought.  Well, WalMart is known for screwing up prices on things.  When prices are entered in Bentonville by some data person there, the scan tags for the prices come up in the store thousands of miles away.  Even though the distributor and the managment may scream, the price may remain off for months before they can fix it.  Believe me, I've sold truckloads of stuff that way in my past life as a distributor.

So, when I came home I made my way into the wine isle in my own WalMart and found the price to be the same.  Bwaaahaaahaaa!!!  I bought the shelf clean.  (This is really good juice by the way.)

A week later I walked to the back of the store to get some half and half for my french toast and found an entire end stack of this wine at that price.  Now, it is starting to make me think that something is going on.  I purchase a case and resolve to do some homework.

I talked to my friend Sabrina Greever, who manages Mid Columbia Wine and Spirits in Richland.  She said that there was a wholesale clearance on the stuff and they had brought in several cases on a bulk buy.  Their retail was running at $2.95 (cheaper than WalMart by 2 cents.)

I called an inside source at Columbia Crest who told me that indeed Ste. Michelle Wine Estates was clearancing the label for Vineyard 10 blend and had blown all of the wine out of their warehouses in an unprecedented sale.  The wine no longer exists at Columbia Crest and won't exist again. 

So, what's a self-respecting wino supposed to do?  Run to the stores and buy some of this stuff up. 

This is a wine that sold for $11.99 a few months ago.  The retail is several dollars cheaper than the wholesale was just a few weeks ago.  (Did I mention that this is awesome juice???)  The catch is you better buy it right now or forever hold your peace.  When the Zombie Apocalypse occurs you will be left without!  I picked up a few cases myself and am guarding it with my pitbull and AK47.

Now, onto crap that makes me crazy. 

Over the past few months, and increasing over the past few weeks, I have been receiving a ton of spam crap through my blog.  Somebody with really crappy english is trying to get you to look at their penis enlargement webpage by posting compliments on my blog.  What a bunch of lowdown scumbags. 

I only tell you about this because if you comment on my blog and it doesn't pop up for a few hours or days it is because I'm investigating every blog comment.  I've never really been one to care if you agree with me or not.  I don't even care if you tell me my blog is full of crap or you hate me.  (example:  my last blog about Grocery Outlet.) 

You just need to know that whatever you post, it will get read first and deleted if it's a spam.  I figure if anyone is going to buy a penis enlargement tool from anybody it needs to be from me.  By the way, you can use a wine bottle as a vaccum pump by heating it up, attaching it to the area you wish to suck, and running out into cold air.  It could work.  Just not willing to experiment on myself.
Love and Cheers!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Where Good Wine Doesn't Come From

Beautiful places in the world may be fun, but don't expect
them to have awesome wine.  If grapes don't grow there,
you're probably not going to find great local wine. 
Sometimes things are just a little more evident than you want to admit. Things like just knowing that you should tie your shoes so you don't trip and fall. Another example that I learned at an early age is that you probably shouldn't trust canned food that doesn't have a label on it. Otherwise, your canned beans could actually be tuna.

In the wine world there are things that aren't so obvious on the surface, but when you really think about it you realize that wine that comes from certain parts of the world probably isn't the best wine. Chances are, it probably isn't even good wine.

I only say this because as I travel around the country, and see wine news and information from around the world, I see lots of places where wine probably shouldn't be getting made. I don't want to mention any particular wineries or specific regions, but let's think about this for a minute.

At the same time, wine grown and made in certain parts of the world really make sense. A few of those regions of success are Napa, Sonoma, Walla Walla, and Dundee. If you look at a label and it has one of those places noted on it as the area of origin you are pretty much looking at a good wine. Granted, bad wines happen from any area. But, the odds are in your favor.

What I'm talking about here is those times that you are driving through North Dakota and suddenly you see a roadside sign for Chateau Fargo. I'm not telling you to not stop. Heck, it probably is going to be a lot more entertaining than some giant ball of twine. However, please remember that you haven't just pulled into a farm in Bordeaux. You can't expect some deep dark Cabernet Sauvignon with lots of depth and structure.

Really, the same holds true of all the wineries that you experience as you drive along the British Columbia and Washington State coasts. So many times, when I'm in those areas, I see hundreds of cars pulled into these tasting rooms and lots of cases walking off the properties. When the wines are tasted though, the wine just simply lacks the ability to be called great. I know I'm going to get a lot of hate mail and letter bombs for saying this, but frankly you can't expect anything great from these wineries.

What can you expect from a winery from one of these areas? An “experience”. Nothing more and nothing less. You can't expect great wine. However, when you do experience great wines from these places you should shout about it.

One such vintners that I luckily found a couple of years ago was San Juan Vineyards. The Merlot there is time and again as good as any wine in the region. At the same time, I've found wineries such as the NOLA winery in New Orleans that offers great fruit wines from anything but grapes.

So, the next time you're traveling through Pennsylvania and you see road signs for a winery, go ahead and make a stop. I'm sure that the Amish make great wine from some alfalfa or something. Just don't expect the wine to taste like a fine Rhone. If it does, get the winery to send me a bottle. I'll taste it and if I agree I'll eat my words!


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Nicola’s Redmark Makes An Exciting Mark


I’ve known my friend Crista Whitelatch and her husband Bob for a few years now. We’ve done many different projects together, and I’ve been a big fan of their main label, Claar Cellars because they make a “back labeled shiner” bottle that allows me to put my own custom labels on for clients from time to time. It is a great wine for the price, and allows my clients the ability to have custom labels for a reasonable price legally.

The Whitelatches also own Le Chateau, a Walla Walla label, as well as Ridgecrest, a label for the on-premise market. All together, the family produces a lot of good juice for the market of this region.

Crista shared with me a few months ago that their partners in Le Chateau had left the business. She also shared with me that they had acquired a new label as well called Nicola’s Redmark. I took this information in one ear and out the other, not really giving it much attention.

This week I had the opportunity to have a meeting with Crista, where she was able to explain the Nicola’s brand to me a little. I did a little digging, and searching their website, and found it to be a very youthful brand indeed. The advertising video that opens their website definitely makes me feel young and want to drink Nicola’s with my wife really soon. You’ll have to check it out for yourself.

Nicola’s is named after Nicola Metrione, who had a habit of marking his possessions with bright red paint. He immigrated from Italy in 1891 to New York, where he dug subway tunnels for $1 an hour. He made wine in his tiny Bronx apartment, and dreamed of someday owning a real vineyard and winery. The name is a legacy to his memory.

Nicola’s Redmark comes in four varietals currently, with some promise of expansion in the future. There is a Red Blend, a White Blend, a Reisling, and a Pinot Gris.

I was gifted with a Red Blend and White Blend bottle to write up and share with you. You will have to try the Reisling and the Pinot Gris and let me know what you think of them.

The White Blend is a mixture of Columbia Valley Chardonnay at 60% and 40% Columbia Valley Reisling. Treated with 100% stainless steel, the wine is crisp with fruit and acidity. I loved the light straw color in the glass. Peaches, pears, and passion fruit meet the nose and lead to a spicyness and minerality on the mid palate and finish. I would suggest this wine on a hot late summer evening, or with grilled ahi.

Nicola’s Redmark Red Blend is a rather complex Tuscan styled blend of 35% Merlot, 33% Sangiovese, 12% Barbera, 10% Nebbiolo, 5% Dolcetto, and 5% Mourvedre. I think this blend is probably the way Nicola would have made wine. Mixing a little of this and a little of that to come up with something his friends would really like.

Wide open and full of fruit on the nose, the wine features lots of dark fruit, mocha, and baking spices. A very gentle wine, it is full bodied yet softly voluptuous on the palate.

I’ve been seeing lots of Nicola’s lately in higher end grocery stores and establishments. You can also get it online at www.nicolasredmark.com . You probably want to go check out the great site anyway and plan your own quiet evening at home. A great way to kick off football season!

Monday, August 20, 2012

What Makes A Good Wine Shop Great?

A distributor prices and places bottles on the shelves.
The place was hopping at 10a.m..
This week I was out in Port Townsend as part of my day job, acting as the Director of Evergreen School of Professional Photography. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things I love most about traveling out of town is the idea of going to new wineries and wine shops where ever I’m visiting. While in Port Townsend I found what I consider to be a “great” wine shop named the Wine Seller.

In talking with the shop’s owner, Joe Euro, I was totally enthralled with his story. Joe, a highly acclaimed guitarist was traveling the world, playing in resorts, and waiting tables. He was brought back to Port Townsend out of a “homesickness” that he just couldn’t shake. So, in 1982 he opened the shop on a shoestring.

Being out on the edge of nowhere, Euro had to make weekly trips into Seattle to actually pick up wines for his shop. It was tough. Selling wines back in the 1980s wasn’t an easy or kitchy thing to do like it is now. There were few wines from the northwest region, and people in general weren’t really into it like they are now.

Jumping thirty years ahead, you would never know that Joe had ever struggled. His shop is a virtual adult candy store with thousands of bottles of wines stacked carefully in every nook of the store. There is a full cooler in the back with awesome craft beers from the region, and a great selection of cheeses and meats in another cooler. I was there at 10 a.m., and the store was bustling with customers and distributors.

Joe Euro talks on the phone with a customer looking
for a hard to find wine.
What makes this store so great isn’t really a secret. It is the result of a dream and a lot of hard work. It is the result of a willingness to invest in success.

So many times I walk into a wine shop where there are one or two bottles of some wine, and a minimal selection. Wines from only the Northwest, or wines that are cheap and can be purchased in any grocery store for about half the price. Those store owners are running on a scarcity mentality, and a fear of failure.

What struck me was the enormous selection of wine. Everything from cases stacked high of Crane Lake at $2.99 a bottle in the front, to wines in locked cabinets ranging in the hundreds of dollars per bottle. The shop doesn’t just have a bottle or two of Leonetti. There are entire flights of the stuff, and cases of different vintages. Bottles of three, five, and seven liter magnums were available.

One of the ways you know you’ve entered a “great” wine shop is what you see when you walk in the front door. A “great” wine shop has a feeling of walking into a market place, with boxes stacked around on the floor in front of the shelves. Signs telling you what the wines are, and the great price you’re going to get on those bottles. The store feels almost overwhelming and exciting. You can’t wait to purchase a few bottles and come back tomorrow for more.

If you want to visit the store while in the area you’ll find it just off the ferry dock on Water Street downtown. You can also find out more, and actually buy wines on their website at www.ptwineseller.com.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Few Good Uses For Bad Wine

With as much wine as I drink, and report, you can only imagine how much bad wine I get to taste. You will never know which, because my no-scorched-earth policy doesn’t allow me to write bad stuff. (For those who want to know which wines not to drink just look for the ones I don’t write about.) Nonetheless, I do get to taste some pretty nasty stuff from time to time.

So, the question really comes up about what to do about a bottle of bad wine. What do you do with stuff you don’t drink? Well...I have a few suggestions. You can use them or toss them any way you see fit.

First, there needs to be a discussion about “bad” wine. There is a big difference between “bad” and “BADDDDD!”. My first rule of thumb is to never do anything except dump and throw away wine that has a barnyard odor or flavor. If it tastes or smells like the working end of a cow, throw it away. It is likely to have a bad bacteria that may or may not make you sick.

Also, if a wine is strangely bubbly it is likely struggling with a bad bacteria. One way to know if it has this problem is if the cork is pushed out from the pressure inside the bottle. I’m not talking here about sparkling wines. I’m talking about wines that shouldn’t sparkle when you drink them. Once again, dump them or take them back to the place you bought them.  Of course, my dear departed grandmother would have suggested that you rub that vinegar on your body to relieve arthritis and joint pain.  (Don't knock it.  She lived to her 90s!)

Now that we’ve talked about the crap you can’t do anything with, let’s talk about what you can work with. In most cases we’re talking about wines that are either too hot from a high balance of alcohol, wine with too much sulfur dioxide, or wines that are old in the bottle or oxydized by too much air from an opened bottle.

Wines that have been sitting in the bottle for many years will often open up a little skunky initially. They are old and have been sitting a long time. Much like an old root cellar or closet they just need to get some air. I recommend that you just decant the wine or use an aerator to infuse air into it.

Wine that smells like eggs when you open it happens quite often, especially in wines that are from other countries. They have had to infuse extra sulfites during bottling. Just like old wine I recommend decanting. In both cases if the wine is still skunky...Cook it!

A wine that just can’t be consumed even after you have tried to fix it, or one that you got too tipsy and forgot to vacuum or preserve from the night before are great wines for cooking.

One of my favorite uses of red wine is to make spaghetti sauce. Another is my wine reduction barbecue sauce. For whites, they are great for poaching fish or using in soup stock.

My spaghetti sauce is easy. Brown Italian sausage in olive oil over medium heat. Put in garlic, onion, mushrooms, and peppers. When the meat is crispy and the veggies are tender pour in a bottle of your favorite brand of canned spaghetti sauce. Rinse the bottle with about 1 cup of your “bad” wine. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. People will think you and Uncle Guido worked at it for hours!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Brilliant Mercenary Winemaker Claude Gros

Do you ever wonder how a new winery can suddenly open their doors and have all of their wines be absolutely fantastic right off the starting line? Even more, you look at the winemaker’s name and know that you’ve never heard that name used before. Doesn’t it make you wonder just a bit?

Also, have you ever wondered how some wineries just seem to get it right every time? Year after year, that brand wins awards and sells out just in time. They are the ones who get 95 + scores consecutively even though the year may not have been that great in every other tasting room in the region.

As Clint Eastwood said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” In every business there are owners and managers savvy enough to own up to their weaknesses. They may have a passion and a certain level of expertise to do their craft reasonably well, but without someone behind them to provide guidance that takes them to greatness. Think of any great athelete. I don’t know of a single one who didn’t get coached to the top.

That is where a man like Claude Gros comes in. Considered to be one of the great Oneologists of this generation, Gros not only makes his own wine, but hires himself out all over the world as a consultant winemaker for those who want to win at the wine business.

Gros hails from Languedoc-Roussillon, the southern most tip of France that adjoins to Spain. His winery, Chateau Negly, is famous for its 96-100 scores. Little did I know about this area other than they grow a huge amount of France’s volume of wine grapes. I learned that the area has been one of the most politically embattled parts of Western Europe for centuries.

I consider myself to be lucky to have gotten the chance to meet Claude at a recent tasting at Sun River Winery in Kennewick last week. He consults for the owners and Greg, the full-time winemaker to ensure that their wines are the best they can be.

As we tasted through a Semillon-Sauv Blanc blend, Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, and the winery’s fantastic Port style wines one thing that held true, as they had in past tastings, was that the wines were consistently elegant and beautiful.

I spent a lot of time listening to the conversations in the room. Most importantly I wanted to hear what this brilliant but quiet man had to say about wines in this region as well as wines throughout the world.

A few things fell out of the conversation that I think you, my dear readers, might find interesting. First, and foremost, “great wines come from the vineyard”. It happens so often that poor growing conditions, poor soil, and poor watering practices make juice that has to be fixed. Gros, and other top winemakers want it right in the vineyard so they don’t have to use oak and sulfites to fix the wines.
Also, one of Gros’ biggest criticisms is the making of Rose’, my favorite summertime beverage. Claude says, which I know to be true, that most regions make Rose’ as a fallout from extra red grapes in the press. They treat it as a red until it is on the crush pad. “Really great Rose”, says Gros, “comes from growing the grapes specifically for that purpose.” Hmmm...something to contemplate.

To taste local wines by Claude Gros, you won’t have to go far. His local wineries are Bookwalter and Sun River. You should check them out!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Justin Wine Knows Its Place

Justin Winery Tasting Room
There are many times, being a boy from Southern Idaho, you know where your place is in this world. For me, I wasn’t raised to be some skinny jeans wearing guy with a Rolex. I was raised to be good, old fashioned working stock. Certainly, I clean up pretty well from time to time, but I know where I sit in the world.

The same goes true for some in the wine business. I was sitting in a discussion the other night with a very famous winemaker from France (subject of another article). He brought this up about wines from our region, and many other regions around the world. Simply, some varietals are just meant to be grown in certain conditions and climates. You can grow them in other areas, but it isn’t the same.

What I like about Justin Winery and Vineyards is that they do know their place in the world. Located in beautiful Paso Robles on the Central Coast of California, they aren’t as high faluten as you’d find up north in Sonoma or Napa. But, they like me aren’t ashamed of it. They’re damned proud.

Started in 1981 by Justin and Deborah Baldwin, Justin winery is located in the Adelaide Valley just to the west of Paso Robles. Known for its remoteness, this is one part of California that is known more for its wildlife than it is for its people.

The Baldwin’s story isn’t much unlike a lot of other successful winery owners out there. Both were very successful in the investment banking industry and chose to come to the simpler life. The Baldwins had a real love for Bordeaux wines, and really bought into the dream of making their own California wine paradise.

With the help of master winemaker Fred Holloway over the past 20 years, the winery continues to grow and flourish. Holloway has been very active in California wines from small wineries to some corporate wineries such as LaCrema. He has several 95 to 100 rated wines in his career.

The biggest thing to know about Paso Robles, and Justin for that matter, is that they are close to, but not included in the psychosis that is Napa. They have the tools and staff available, without the high costs.

This week I enjoyed a beautiful bottle of the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine initially opens up in the bottle like a pair of tight pants, but after getting a few minutes of air it is like getting your stretchy pants on and sitting down on the couch. This is a sign of a superior wine that will age very well over the next 10 + years.

The aroma of the wine is full of currants, with notes of cherry and blackberry. Spices such as vanilla and anise are richly interlaced with the fruit. The flavors are as rich as the nose suggests with plenty of currant, cherry, anise, and cedar. There is a nice acidity to the pH which balances the soft tannins and fruit.

There are a lot of ways to get ahold of this wine. You can get it through many higher end wine shops in the Northwest, as well as through the Justin Wine website at www.justinwine.com . I would also suggest if you are going through Central Valley staying at the bed and breakfast on location. You can check it out on the website as well.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Williamson Vineyards A Great Southern Idaho Oasis

The front door of the Williamson Winery. 
Left takes you to the fruit.  Right takes you to the Juice!

No matter where I travel I make it a real point to visit the local wineries. It has been something that my wife and I have done for many years. Just our way of being touristy I suppose.
This last week when we were in the Boise Valley I wanted to make at least one stop in Idaho wine country. It being a Monday, I knew that most of the self respecting places would be closed, recovering from the busy Independence day weekend.

However, we did luck out as we drove toward Lizard Butte outside of Marsing, Idaho. Litterally a driveway away from the Ste Chappelle Winery that I wrote about a few weeks ago, was a winery owned by the Williamson family.

For those of us from the Boise Valley, we grew up knowing that there were basically three major families in the fruit business from that region. The Symms, the Saxtons, and the Williamsons. Little did I know that over all these years, the Williamsons, like the Symms, have gotten very busy in the wine industry.

The Williamson's Many Wine Awards
Williamson Fruit celebrated 100 years in 2009. Originally a homestead of Lillian Williamson and her husband George Gammon. The farm has grown from having to deliver water by horse and trailer to water the trees, to being a major producer of tree fruit in the region.

The Williamson Family got into the wine business about 20 years ago. They saw the success of their neighbors and decided that putting in some vines wouldn’t be a bad idea. A few years ago they entered into an agreement with Rob Koenig from Koenig Winery, which is just down the street about 200 yards.

With Koenig at the winemaking helm, the Williamsons have done very well for themselves. They have acquired many trophies, ribbons, and accolades over the past decade.

We pulled into the fruit stand/winery at the end of the day. The very friendly winery staff actually came out to greet us, and tasted us through their portfolio. Once they found out who I was they even opened a couple of “special” bottles for us to try.

I can’t share with you the notes from the entire portfolio, but these are the notes on my favorites.

The 2011 Dry Riesling is done in an Alsace style, using german yeasts. It is an off-dry with a 1.86 residual sugar, which allows the fruit, spices, and creaminess come through from the malolactic fermentation. This would have been great with a nice buttery scallop.

Williamson’s Rose’ is called Blossom. Made from the 2011 vintage of Sangiovese grapes, this wine is subtley sweet and spicy. The wine shows flavors of wild strawberry, white pepper, and melon.

The 2006 Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon were both very drinkable. I particularly liked the characteristics of the syrah, with dark berries, black cherry, and pepper. The finish was very nice on this wine.

As a special treat I got to taste the 2006 Reserve Petite Syrah. This wine shows great potential for ageing, The nose is rich with dark berries, and the flavors of blackberry, blueberry, pepper, and tobacco make this wine fantastic!
Last, the winery offers several late harvest wines and a nice port. I suggest trying them, as they are all very nice.

You can find Williamson Orchards, and a map to their tasting room at www.willorch.com. I suggest making a stop in the next time you travel through Southern Idaho.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Finding the Mother Lode In Baker Oregon

Bella's in downtown Baker City
Last week, while traveling to Boise to hang out with family I stopped in a little place that I’ve promised to stop at for many years. I’ve promised Beverly at Bella’s in Baker a visit many times since first meeting her at Graybeal back in 2007. It was definitely time to make a stop.

Bella’s market in downtown Baker, just a few short paces down Main Street from the famous Geyser Grand Hotel, and nestled among several little boutique stores, is a regular oasis in Eastern Oregon for wine.

My memory of Baker was back in the 1970s when my dad helped to pave all the highways around that area. Our family spent several summers in Baker, Sumpter, and Austin Junction during my formative years. The memory that serves me, was that Baker wasn’t what you’d call “wine friendly”. It was more of a whiskey and beer kind of town.

What I found to be most interesting was that Bella’s is very wine friendly, and the town of Baker, which encircles it seems to be much more wine friendly as well. Bicyclists in their tight little spandex shorts sped down mainstreet, and there were several great pieces of art hanging in stores around. Bellas clearly reminded me of a cute little european market with wines, meats, cheeses, and espresso.

As I sipped on my San Pellegrino Aranciata, I wandered through Bella’s, including the substantial wine shop. I was amazed at the depth of selection in the shop. Far better than I have here in many of the shops in the Tri Cities, and many more labels and varietals than I’ve found anywhere else in Eastern Oregon.
One bottle that I happened on was a 2011 Rose’ by Mother Lode Cellars. It was placed among some pretty upscale Bandols that I was also eyeing. The bottle tells the story about the Mother Lode Mine, located just outside of Baker near the Cook Family Homestead. The mine, which produced 8,000 oz. of gold, and 4 million pounds of copper is now long closed.
Travis Cook, graduated with a degree in Horticulture from Oregon State University and returned to Baker with the intent of starting a winery at the Homestead. It only made sense that the wine be named after the mine. (Afterall, the name Cook’s had already been taken.)
I was talking about the wines with one of the staff, Cody, at Bella’s. She suggested that I try the Mother Lode Wine. Little did I know until later in the conversation that her name is Cook, and the wine-maker is her brother. Tricky having an inside salesperson hiding in the ultimate wine shop for the area!

Mother Lode makes a Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley grapes, a Vineyard Reserve Red that uses grapes from the family’s nearby Keating Vineyard, and a Rose’ which I mentioned, that is a blend of Riesling grapes and Counoise which are also grown at the Keating Vineyard.
I purchased the Rose’ because I knew it was going to be a hot one and I wanted a good porch wine. The 2011 is very low in residual sugar, with most of the flavor being from the fruit itself. A nice Malolactic creaminess leads back to the blueberry and black licorice flavors and nose. A very nice bottle. I’m looking forward to going back through Baker to pick up a bottle of the red blend next time through!


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Washington Wines Perform With Balance

Steve Warner, Ex. Director of the Washington Wine Commission
Speaks to the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce
Living here in Eastern Washington and Oregon has its perks. We’re small enough that we don’t have a lot of the big city issues, but large enough that if we want to make a trip to Jack in the Box at 2 a.m. we can get a Sourdough Jack. We are even lucky enough to be right near vineyards, and even have the chance to know and hang with world class winemakers every day. Because of that, we tend to drink a lot of our local wines. Which is a good thing.

This week I had the chance to meet with and hear a presentation by Steve Warner, the Executive Director of the Washington Wine Commission. He brought up some interesting points that I thought were worth telling you about.

The Washington Wine Commission is built out of all of the Washington State Wineries, both large and small. It is funded through an excise on each gallon of wine produced in the state, or juice produced by vineyards here. The fee is extremely small, but the benefits are great. The commission works very hard to promote Washington Wines as a whole, and create good will between different winemakers in today’s highly competitive market.

A few take-aways that I had from Mr. Warner’s presentation left me pondering the growing future of wine in this region. I wanted to share with you my thoughts and opinions on these take outs.

Part of the commission’s work is looking at the buying atmosphere for the wine industry in this region. As part of focus research they developed a word cloud of various inputs from people concerning Washington Wine. The two most used words were Balance and Value.

I understood the term value, although they apparently haven’t had a bottle of Col Solare lately. The term that puzzled me though was Balance. Is it the balance between fruit, acid, and tannin that I talk about frequently in this article? Is it the balance between cost and value? Is it the way that the cellar rats have to balance the barrels when racking? What does that term mean?

I caught Mr. Warner after the presentation and asked him about this term. He said that the term was pretty unqualified in the studies, and it could mean all these things and more. This made me think this is a question that I need to ask you. I would appreciate it if people would respond on my email or blog as to what you think this term means.

Another huge takeaway from the presentation was something that I’ve heard before. That is that the U.S. is now by far the largest consumer of wine in the world. The downside is that the residents of this region only drink about 3 liters of wine each year per capita, versus the 10 liters of wine per year consumed by the residents of Europe.

My thought is that I’m doing my part to bring the per capita up. I think most of my faithful readers are doing the same. So, the question is, who are the deadbeats out there not doing their part? Come on residents of Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon! Drink more wine. And, while you’re drinking more wine make sure it’s local to this region. I’m expecting you all to go out to your nearest winery today, buy a case of wine and drink it as soon as possible!


Landmark Provides A Grand Detour

If you’ve ever been along lucky enough to visit Sonoma you will find the most beautiful vineyards in the world. Many of them nestled among the majestic California Redwoods, the vineyards seem to grow right out of the trees.

The thing I find most fascinating with the area is how the mists from the Pacific Ocean waft through the trees and vines in the early mornings. By midday the sun has come into full exposure and the days are dry and warm.

This combination of warm, dry days and cool, moist nights is the perfect home for what many consider the greatest Pinot Noir grapes in the world. If you ever get a chance to visit the area I highly recommend spending a few days just taking this region’s beauty in.

Kenwood, California is a small unincorporated hamlet nestled in the far north of the Sonoma region. It is here that Damaris Deere Ford, the great great granddaughter of John Deere, founded Landmark winery in 1974. The winery has focused on medium sized production, unlike many of the mega producers in the area. The center of their attention is on the vineyards themselves, and the great wines that can come from great land.

Winemaker, Greg Statch, and his team produce several different levels of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I was lucky enough to try his signature label Pinot called “Grand Detour”.

This wine features a blend of fantastic grapes from throughout the region including Flocchini, Kanzier, Spring Hill Ranch, Armagh, and Juul Vineyards. The grapes are hand harvested and cold soaked before fermentation. Stach then ferments and ages the various barrels, blending the various juices to come up with just the right flavors for the final blend.

The 2010 “Grand Detour” features a spectacular nose of wild strawberries. There is a faint background of grilled mushrooms. The color of the wine is a beautiful ruby to purple in the bowl of the glass.

In the mouth this wine has flavors of strawberry, ginseng and corriander, mixed with plum and blood orange. It has beautiful, soft and silky tannins, and a soft acidity.

Initially I popped the cork on this bottle just to write this column. However, after my first sniff and taste I felt like I had just opened the door to royalty in my house and I was underdressed for the occasion. When I handed my wife my glass her eyes glazed over and I could tell this wine was something special.

Having a special bottle in my possession, I changed dinner plans to something that would compliment such a great wine. Some soft cheeses and aged meats went very well with this fantastic juice.
I realize that this bottle isn’t in the under $10 range, or even the under $15 range that I normally report on. This baby has a MSRP of $40. Just know that every drop is worth it.

As for where you can find this wine, I suggest asking for it at your favorite local wine shop. If they are a shop that supports California wines they should have access to this great juice.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Two New Wine Shops To Make Me Smile!

Wine and More in Kennewick
I’m so excited when a new wine shop opens. It’s like Christmas, my birthday, and the 4th of July all mixed into one. This month, with two new wine shops opening nearby, I’m like a kid on Halloween candy as well.

I want to start off by telling you about my long-time friend Patty Wolk, and her new wine shop in the Southridge district of Kennewick. Patty and her friend Anita Kenfield have opened a great little shop on 3600 Zintel Way called Wine And More.

Having been around the wine business for a long time, Patty new the magic combination required in order to make a shop like this successful. The shop includes the wine and gift items that you find in many wine shops, but also includes a little bistro where you can get some great food and just sit and enjoy a glass of wine with friends.

As a matter of fact, that is just what I did yesterday. As I sat in the shop enjoying a San Pelligrino I started visiting with newlyweds Mark and Marsha Reis who were enjoying a lunch of Chardonnay and a couple of small plates of food. We got to talking and sharing food, and became the best of friends in just a few minutes.

We enjoyed the Northwest Steak Planks, which are crostini planks with hand-carved beef and gorgonzola. We also had the Red Mountain Flat Bread with artichokes, feta, grilled chicken, and herbs. Absolutely fabulous!!

Wolk and Kenfield were very thoughtful in opening their shop together. Anita, who has a long career in retail focused on gift items that are unique and fun. Jewelry and art adorns the store that isn’t available just anywhere. It is hand made and selected.

Patty, who really understands the wine business wanted to focus on wines that are unique. Her thought was that anyone can get a bottle of wine from the Northwest. She focused on varietals and getting the best wines from regions where those varietals shine. Her selections of world wines are as fabulous as her local wines.

I see Mary Ann and I hanging out with Mark and Marsha and numerous other people at Wine and More for years to come.

If you’re looking to come to Kennewick this weekend, their Grand Opening Celebration continues Saturday with a visit from the amazing Charlie Hoppes from Fidelitas. Champagne tastings are on Sundays, and every day there are wine flights available.

Second, I know that I’ve been ranting and raving about how the sky is falling here in the Tri-Cities when it comes to alcohol sales. On the other hand, the new laws here In Washington have allowed for us to have a wine megastore here in the area. Mid-Columbia Wine and Spirits has opened in Richland this month, and a Kennewick store opening in July.

The store’s owners, Micheal Shemall and Rajiv Malhan, who own hookedonwine.net, were able to use the new laws to leverage their business into the retail environment. The selection is the largest I’ve seen, with bottles ranging from 375ml to 6 liters in size, and from just a few dollars to thousands.

You can find just about anything your heart desires when it comes to selection. If you’ve been looking for a rare Brunelo di Montelcino that you enjoyed on your honeymoon in Italy I’m pretty sure you’ll find it there.

My good friend Sabrina Griever is one of the wine stewards and managers at the store. Tell her I sent you.


Monday, June 11, 2012

The Interesting Facets of Tempranillo

I’m a big fan of wines that aren’t Bordeaux. Don’t get me wrong. Oh, do I love the rich flavors of a good Cabernet or Merlot. Although, there is just something so mysterious about wines that aren’t like anything else. So many times I just want to step out of the box and try something a little different and mysterious for a change.

One of my favorite regions for wines with an interesting set of flavors is Spain. And, one of my favorite wines from that region is Tempranillo. Named from the diminutive Spanish word “Temperanillo” which means early, the grapes are some of the first harvested in the warm Spanish growing season. Often times Tempranillo is harvested weeks before any of the other varieties.

This grape, used to make Rioja, is considered to be the noble grape of Spain. It was used up until just a few decades ago to produce mostly jug wines. Over the past few years it has become more and more popular as a blend or single variety high end specialty wine. Tempranillo has gained quite a following in the last few years, and now it is becoming a popular grape even here in the Western U.S..

What I like about Tempranillo is it’s rich and spicy flavors of berries, plum, leather, and fresh tobacco as a general set of characteristics. It is low in acidity and sugar making it great for those who don’t like acidic wines. Other flavors such as vanilla can be easily infused through the oak of good barrel aging.

In my very difficult research for this article I decided to talk about two different methods for Tempranillo out of the same winemaker. I received two bottles from Matchbook wines out of Dunnigan Hills. I chose a bottle of mostly Tempranillo blend, and another bottle that was a Tempranillo Rose’.

The Matchbook 2009 Tempranillo is 90% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine offers rich flavors of black berries, cinnamon, clove, cocoa, and vanilla. It is dark in color and has just enough umph to hold up to a pesto or tapas.

The 2011 Rose’ of Tempranillo. Unlike the blend I just talked about, this wine was bled from the skins right at crush before the colors would darken. It was then cold fermented in stainless steel for 3 months rather than barrel aged for up to 18 months in oak barrels. The result is a much more delicate wine with a nose of cream soda, with flavors of watermelon and peaches. With a residual sugar of under .5% this fairly dry wine has most of its flavor from the fruit and malolactic fermentation.

These versions of Tempranillo are very soft and delicate. I’ve also had many from the northwest that were much more full bodied. The results are always an overall spiciness with great food pairing abillites.

The next time you’re a little weary of the same old merlot I hope you’ll give Tempranillo a try. There are several offerings on most grocery shelves, and many of our local wine shops have even more choices.


Gallo Wines Buys Into Northwest Wines

Gosh!! I Love it when I’m right! I’ve been saying for years that E & J Gallo Company from Modesto, California was going to join the Northwest winemaking scene soon. It was only a matter of time until the Gallo family owned a piece of the Washington and Oregon wine biz.

Guess what got announced this week? You got it. The Gallo family purchased both Columbia Winery, and Covey Run from Ascentia Corporation. Ascentia, who also sold off their interest a couple of weeks ago of a couple of other northwest wineries to Precept Brands, must be doing some pretty stealthy capitalization because they are cutting loose some nice properties.

I’ve been a big fan of Gallo wines ever since I sold for them through Graybeal Distributing. Gallo is really a company that’s really got it together when it comes to making, marketing, and branding their wines.

The one thing that has always held the company back from true success in the northwest was that we are pretty proud of our own wines. In most cases it is nearly impossible to convince a person from this part of the world that a Californian wine would be superior to any rot gut from around here. Truly, wine in California or Europe is overall significantly better, and sometimes cheaper. But, we here in this region are proud of our own brands.

A couple of years ago Gallo started to really get it right. They looked at the success of brands like Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, and Precept Brands and realized that they needed to produce wines through other local labels like those companies do. Box and jug wines are way out of vogue and the Gallo numbers were dropping quickly.

Gallo started by picking up some big European brands like Gascon Malbec. Everything at Gascon stayed the same, but the ownership and money flow was different. Great wine at a great price.

Recently, before the big 1183 fiasco hit us here in Washington I picked up some booze to stock up. I picked up a bunch of New Amsterdam Gin. One of my favorites. The Lady at the store told me that they sold tons of the stuff. When I told her it was a Gallo product she just about passed out.

Now, with Gallo picking up stock in the northwest we are sure to see the lines get a lot more blurry. One thing I can tell you is that the Gallo distributors are going to see a huge increase in their numbers out of this.

Covey Run was founded in 1982 in Prosser, and was one of the benchmark wineries that kick started the Washington wine industry. Helen Willard, one of my good friends from the Prosser area started Covey Run as Quail Ridge with her late husband Leon. Helen still walks the vineyards of the winery every day with her dogs.
Columbia Winery started in the garage of Dr. Lloyd Woodburne in Laurelhurst, Washington in 1962. In 1979 they were joined by pioneer winemaker David Lake and the rest is history. Known as Washington’s first premium wine brand, the winery has grown exponentially through the years.

Congrats to all in this purchase. I know that both the winemaking staff, the founders, and the Gallo brand will be strengthened by this.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Winery Of My Youth Comes Back to Northwest Ownership

I was born and raised in the potato and corn fields of Caldwell, Idaho. As a kid I fondly remember going out to Symms fruit ranches along Sunnyslope to pick up boxes of apples and cherries during harvests.

One summer when we were going out to pick up some cherries there was a new structure on the slopes. Where there had once been a forest of fruit trees there was now a really odd shaped Chateau. Around it, and stretching for long distances in either direction was gray-white soil and little twigs suspended by long strands of wires.

As a teenage boy that was my first experience of a winery and a vineyard. The winery was Ste. Chapelle. Under the ownership of the Symms family, and the winemaking expertise of Bill Broiche, the winery became one of the most successful wineries in the Western United States.

I fondly remember that the winery made several different varietals. The one that made them famous though, was their Johannisburg Riesling. Back in the late 70s and early 80s there were relatively few laws concerning ownership of regional names. You didn’t have to be from Johannisburg to make a wine by that name. You could make it above the backwaters of the Snake River and all was cool.

I distinctly remember that a visit to Ste. Chapelle on or after your 19th birthday was a right of passage for many of us. I also remember taking my wife and her roommates there long before we were married to get the girls looped on free samples in the tasting room.

Now, fast forward all these years. The winery, after a rather ugly split between Symms and Broiche nearly died. The 80s and 90s took their toll on the wine industry as well. People got tired of the same old sweet wines.

Ste. Chapelle was sold off to Constellation wines back in the early 2000s. Constellation’s huge portfolio and marketing expertise helped breathe some new life back into the winery. Once again I remember looking on the shelves of grocery wine isles and seeing growing space and sales being given to Ste. Chapelle. WalMart in Hermiston had a huge section of their shelves dedicated to the winery, and we always needed backstock of their wines for weekends.

Ascentia purchased the winery from Constellation in 2008. This giant conglomerate company, that also owns Covey Run and Woodinville Winery in Washington owns hundreds of labels worldwide. They continued to grow the brand successfully since then.

This month the winery was purchased by Precept Brands out of Washington State. A resounding victory for Northwest vintners. Precept, owned and operated by Andrew Browne and the Baty family, has been successful in growing many super successful labels here in the northwest. Apex, Pine and Post, Sagelands, Canoe Ridge, and Alder Brook and many other regional labels are Precept wines.

The reason for my excitement is that once again one of my foundations in the wine industry is under what I consider “local” ownership. It is a sort of homecoming for all of us Idaho wine slobs.
Ste. Chappelle has grown exponentially since my younger years. They now create over 130,000 cases of wine annually. Their specialty still is riesling, however they, like me, have grown up a little. They now offer some pretty decent off dry and dry reds as well.
The next time you’re driving through southern Idaho I hope you’ll take a quick detour and stop at the tasting room between Caldwell and Marsing, Idaho.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Greener On The Other Side of The Fence

I’m a lucky guy. I live right on an imaginary fence-line that puts me right on the edge of not only two, but three states. Those states are Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Oregon is only 15 minutes from my house. Idaho is about an hour and a half.

Really, my life is good. So, when I complain about something you should know that I’m one of the lucky ones who can jump over the “fence”.

The barred and empty shelves in my neighborh store
all prepared to receive booze in the next few days.
What I’m preparing for is the Y2K of Washington State liquor sales. Washington State voters passed Initiative 1183 last fall resoundingly! WoooHooo!! Now they have to live with it. On June 1st the state run liquor stores that have been in business in this state for longer than I’ve been alive will be closed immediately. Taking their place will be.... Well, we’re not sure yet who that will be.

We do know for sure that Costco, who put millions into the campaign, and several other large grocery and drug stores will be able to sell because they are over the square footage limit. Other stores that will also qualify to sell are small outlets in underpopulated areas, and state liquor stores that have been auctioned off to private individuals.

Doesn’t seem to be a problem. You’d think? Well, the problem is that the state will control liquor sales until the 1st of June. Then close their doors. On that date, the new establishments will be put in lock stock charge of sales. This shouldn’t be a problem except that there is no real solid plan for transition, transportation, or distribution to the new stores.

Many of the large stores are just now drawing up plan-o-grams and buying shelving. The state run stores are running out of stock. And, the state employees that we dropped on their heads are either dreaming of retirement or looking to get a job at one of the new stores.

I went shopping this morning for a big event we’re having next weekend. One of the things on the menu was Margaritas. Yum! Well, it almost wasn’t. The selection of alcohol is nearly nonexistent in the state run stores, with no plan to update stock. They’re selling out.

Nobody is talking about this, but Washington State has pretty much created it’s own short-term prohibition. Good luck buying alcohol for the next few weeks while the companies, state, and distributors figure all this out. You simply won’t be able to buy booze in this state very soon. We voted for cheap booze, and are going to get no booze!

I know that booze is on its way to stores soon. All the greedy masses are lining up to sell it to you at higher...yes, I said higher prices than you’ve seen before. Distributors that I’ve talked to have said that they are dealing with corporate greed like never before. Asking for deeper discounts and taking larger profit cuts than the state ever did. Why? Because we also voted major changes in price posting which controlled corporate greed.

My recommendation is go go out and buy everything you plan on drinking this summer right now. Don’t hold back! Personally, I’m planning on surrounding myself in my compound with booze, limes, and tomato juice and not coming out until this apocalypse is over! Or, I’ll just drive to Hermiston and buy a bottle.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rose’s Are In Full Bloom This Year

 As I look at the weather bug on my phone this week I keep getting freeze warnings for the next few days. At the same time, over the past few days and weeks it has been a burgeoning summer already, with a few days last week over 90 degrees. Welcome to spring in the Northwest!
Maison Bleue and Longshadows Rose's
The crazy thing about these springtime days and evenings around here, is that you don’t know what you’re going to get. You don’t know if you’re going to be in your bikini, or in a sweater from moment to moment.
My recommendation during these few crazy weather weeks of the year is to dress in layers, and drink Rose’.
Why Rose’? The reason is simple, yet the wine is complex. Rose’s are truly a wine made from red grapes, with all the complexity of red wine. Yet, at the same time, the wine is not as heavy and tannic as you would normally find those grapes producing. It is a highly complicated wine to produce. Yet, at the same time, the wines are usually less expensive than their dark-red partners.
One thing that is kind of wild about Rose’s is that the wine is very hand-crafted, and can change dramatically from vintage to vintage. It is usually bottled in early spring, and sells out of the wineries and shops by early summer.
Definitely something you need to know if you buy a bottle now, and decide to go back for more later. You don’t want to wait too long. The good stuff flies off the shelves early and doesn’t come back till next year.
I did a little survey among a few wine shop staff, and my wino peeps out there these past few weeks. I also did a little taste testing of my own. These are the must drinks that I’ve been hearing about in the market this year:
The Rose’ that went over huge at Taste Washington this year was Maison Bleue’s Rose of Mourvedre. It was explained to me by a couple of my serious wino friends as being “OMG Good!”. I went and bought some at my neighborhood wine shop and was a little freaked at the $20 price tag, but when I tasted it I have to say I agreed with the reviews. Jon, the winemaker makes his Rose’ in a Bandol style which is bone dry.
Another one that is getting raves this season is Juliette’s Dazzle. This one, made by Dolan & Weiss (Long Shadows) from Walla Walla, is selling off the shelves well. I bought some but haven’t tasted it yet. The bottle is cool though!
A couple that have been produced beautifully season after season for years are Barnard Griffin and Maryhill’s Rose’s of Sangiovese. Both are off the shelf for around $10 and are never fail favorites every year. I’ve had a bottle of each this year and love the balance of fruit and acidity in these wines.
Several of my Facebook friends voted Martinez and Martinez as their Rose’ of the season. I personally loved it last year, and look forward to trying their Rose’ again this year.
Along with that, a few of my friends voted Kestrel has having an amazing Rose’ this season. My friend Scott Abernathy hosted a brown bag event recently and said that Kestrel, Martinez & Martinez, and Jones of Washington won the votes amongst some pretty experienced palates.
Another friend, Kace Allen, from Southern Oregon said that his wife loves Sweet Cheeks Winery’s Rose this year. Next time I’m in the Willamette Valley I’m going to check that one out!